The Mikhailovsky Ballet's first London season has been a strange mixture, from the kitsch of Spartacus to this programme of rare lollipops, some sweet, some dusty. In recent years, there's been a fashion for recovering lost or rare 19th-century ballets, and this St Petersburg company is known for having kept some of them in its repertoire.
The star rarity was Le Halte de Cavalerie by Petipa, choreographer of The Sleeping Beauty. Petipa is so important in ballet history, and so many of his works have been lost, that there's strong interest in seeing any survivals, but Le Halte de Cavalerie turns out to be a dotty affair about a regiment stopping in a village. All the soldiers fall for Teresa (who wears red boots, so is clearly feisty). She, meanwhile, loves Peter, who is engaged to Maria.
Much of the ballet is taken up with rivalries and teasing. It finds room for ribbon dances, a gentle duet, and a ludicrous colonel with loudly jingling spurs. The corps dances are inventive – soldiers dance in a circle, arm in arm, with village girls perched on their shoulders.
The Mikhailovsky bounce through it cheerfully, keeping the steps pretty and the humour broad. A sharper sense of style might save it from quaintness. It sets the tone for an afternoon of bonbons. These are all frilly dances, and though danced with exuberance, could be both grander and crisper.
A series of divertissement dances is full of ballerinas pretending to be things – animal, vegetable, mineral or Fairy Doll. In this sugar overdose, Sabina Yapparova is courted by two Pierrots in a mix of pratfalls and sentimentality. Anna Zhuravlyova flutters through as a Dragonfly, in a 1920s frock with wings. Made for Anna Pavlova, the number now looks kitsch.
Esmeralda is much more substantial. Ekaterina Borchenko's gypsy heroine is dancing at the wedding of the man she loves. Her depression and her love of dancing are clear, though there could be more scale and contrast in these steps. In Paquita, which should be a grand display of classical dancing, Borchenko is, however, spindly.
There's more oomph with Spring Waters, a spectacular duet that has the ballerina hurling herself into her partner's arms from half a stage away. Marat Shemiunov and Irina Perren zip through it with gusto. Denis Matvienko is gleefully showy in the big jumps of Le Corsaire, though Anastasya Matvienko lacks stamina in her solos.
Earlier in the week, this couple came off much better in Giselle, the best of the Mikhailovsky programmes.